As embarrassing, awkward and vitriolic as American politics can be, it can also be a valuable time to (re)consider our political/social convictions. We take for granted that we get to exercise our right to vote but we do not so readily acknowledge that the regular rhythm of the political system presents the critical opportunity to re-visit our opinions and ask why we hold to the positions that we do.
It can be an opportunity to reinforce our preexisting biases and remind ourselves how lucky we are that we’re right. But it can be more than that. The rotation of political seasons can also be an opportunity for self-examination and, if we’re lucky, growth, and possibly, even change. Just as people change over the years, it is only natural that our political views will change over time as well.
I was once the President of the College Republicans at a private Christian university. I once volunteered to put up signs for a Republican presidential campaign. But this year, as presidential politics begin to boil, I have found myself in the curious position of being characterized as liberal. isidewith.com said I side 95% with Bernie Sanders. Several other political quizzes have confirmed these sentiments, one even telling me that I am “solidly liberal.” And of course we can trust online political quizzes, right?
Regardless of the merits of any one particular political quiz, I am very interested in the consistency of my results, especially in light of my own past political leanings. It’s made me wonder what has changed. I am fairly culturally conservative on several key social issues such as marriage and abortion and I am certainly considered a theological conservative. So how am I considered liberal and, liberal compared to whom?
The obvious and snarky answer, of course is that I’m liberal compared to those right of me on the political spectrum. But what does that really mean and how did I go from openly identifying as Republican to now being told that I should feel the Bern? How did this happen and in particular, which of my views shifted?
As I’ve considered this, it seems to me that the issues that have pegged me as “liberal” are issues primarily dealing with social justice. I believe the government should offer a “safety net” for those struggling to find their way and that most people who receive government assistance are not freeloaders. I believe we should rely less on military force. I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the environment. I believe that “trickle down economics” only serves to increase the wage gaps and actually harms the people at the bottom of the system rather than giving them a leg up. I believe that the free market economy is equally part of the problem and I believe that healthcare should not be driven by profits. I believe that our school systems should not have to beg for budget overrides every year. I believe that the “war on drugs” is a sham. I oppose the death penalty. I believe that our current model of mass incarceration amounts to social injustice. Not to mention the fact that our prisons should not be run by for profit companies. And I believe that Christians should be more than simply “one issue” voters. This paragraph has already given many of my family and friends conniption fits.
I came to these convictions not necessarily through politics but by faith. As I strive to become more like Jesus, I can’t escape the fact that my faith demands care for the poor (Exodus 23:6; Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:39). My faith demands that we care for refugees (Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.) I believe our social systems, especially our justice systems should not favor either the poor or the rich (Leviticus 19:15), etc.
The issue, of course, is the question of what the role of government is in all of this. These commands, of course are not meant as government policies for our modern systems but were primarily for the Israelite theocracy. So how, if at all, do these issues relate to the modern Christian and our modern government systems? I believe that though these commands were for Israel, they communicate something deeper: humans should care for one another. Any approach that simply says “every man for himself” will inevitably not only leave some behind but will eventually result in injustice, especially against the less fortunate. I do not believe this can simply be chalked up to saying that some people don’t work as hard as others.
As an extension of humanity, I believe that governments should share in our fundamental human concerns. This, I think is how I’ve come to be labeled as “liberal.” Many of my fellow Christians (and please understand, I am not questioning their faith, simply acknowledging that we have different interpretations. of how our faith should be applied to everyday life and politics) believe that the government should do less, be smaller and have very little to do with actually helping people.
As a person of faith in Jesus, I own the fact that these obligations fall first on the Church but I believe that the government is an extension of our humanity, not a replacement for it. The church should take the lead in caring for the poor, in housing refugees, etc. but the government should bear some of this responsibility simply because we are all humans. It would be great if the American church took care of all of these issues but we aren’t and so, we need to look to other avenues to fulfill our duties to one another.
I’m still trying to work through a lot of these issues and don’t claim to have any better understanding than anyone else. All I can say is that, as I’ve begun to wrestle with the clear demands of my faith, I have been considered by others more and more “liberal.” I don’t know what to make of this.
I know that many of you disagree with my thoughts. I can’t wait to hear from you because I believe that opinions (and please remember, that’s what these are) are sharpened through dialogue. I’m simply sharing my own journey, so please be respectful.